Parenting can be a pretty difficult journey. We often have wonderful, idyllic idea’s of how we will behave as parents, what we will do as a family, how we will manage misbehaviour, how we will enjoy each other’s company and love each other unconditionally. Now mostly, these are our true intentions. However they don’t necessarily come easily and we’d be making ourselves very vulnerable to anxiety and stress by putting unrealistic pressure on ourselves.
So rather than concentrate on the “best” way to parent our children, I will be talking about the “good enough” way to parent our children.
1) Bonding and attachment with our child.
When our child is born, we might expect to feel instant love and attachment but this is not always the case. Mums have just experienced labour and the complications and distress this may bring. Dads have just observed their loved one go through labour and dealt with their own emotions about this. And yes, sometimes babies look a bit “squished”. Parents basically go through an emotional rollercoaster the first few weeks or months which can be confusing and frustrating and often our idyllic dreams of taking to our new role go out the window. Let me give you a piece of advice: babies won’t care what you are wearing, whether the house is clean or even if their outfit matches. All they need from you in these early days are to be warm, fed, clean and loved. If you can achieve those 4 things then everything else is a bonus.
2) Teaching our child about the world.
One of the biggest things I try to remember as a parent is this: your child is watching and learning from you! That is a big responsibility to have. They learn to deal with anger by watching you deal with anger. They learn to share their feelings by seeing you share yours. They learn to interact with others by watching you do it. Who remembers the first time they said something their parents said to them? (If you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all?). Well most parents have a similar moment when their child behaves like them, the point when they see their child do something which they do themselves: mine was when my 7 year old daughter growled in frustration (cringe worthy moment!). This is not a co-incidence, this is because they have been observing us for their whole life and quietly storing those little opportunities to mimic us. But rather than beat ourselves up, use this as a reminder to be careful how we teach them to behave. At the end of the day, we are their role models – whether we are a good example or not.
3) Managing our children’s behaviour’s coping with our own feelings.
When we are calm and stress free it is easy to think about how we would manage our children’s negative behaviour. This is a good start, this means we are aware that things are not always easy and their behaviour will challenge us at times. However, preparing for an “incident” and dealing with it can often be completely different because our emotions and feelings overtake and influence our actions. Therefore the “good enough” parent will have good intentions and good ideas about how to manage these situations but accept that, at times, they will not go to plan and to forgive themselves for loosing their temper and resorting to shouting. The important factor is to be aware of your limits and learn ways to cope when you are reaching those stress levels – whether that is using a mantra, counting to 10, walking away. Have a “calming” strategy prepared for those emergencies!
4) Adult relationships and how they change.
Have you ever looked at a photo of a family (it may have even be you!) and thought “what a lovely, happy family they look”? Well I have (and it wasn’t me in the photo!). There’s the immaculate looking mum, the handsome dad and the well dressed children all happy and smiley. Well I’m here to shatter a dream for you: that’s not your average family and if you strive to be like them you might be disappointed. Something happens to a couple when they have a child – it’s the dynamics and attention factor that gets muddled up. When there are two of you, you have lots of time and attention for each other. But when there are more than two, you can never really pay full attention to one person all the time and this can put strain on a previously strong relationship – and that’s before you factor in things like financial changes, lack of sleep or difference in parenting opinions! You may find your relationship has lost it’s “spark” and although this is normal and perfectly OK, you may want to take extra steps to work at your relationship. My theory, with my “good-enough” values, is that you don’t have to be super-parents all the time. If you have someone who you trust and is willing to help, take them up on the offer of babysitting. Even if you just go the movies and snooze through a film, the act of working together on your relationship maybe enough to survive the course.
5) How parenting makes us think about our own experiences of childhood.
Without a doubt, our own experiences of being parented will influence how we parent our own children. This can be an entire spectrum of different levels and can be a positive influence or a negative influence but being aware of the influence is the important factor here. When we think about our childhood, what feelings does this bring up for us? Now it’s important to reflect on why those feelings arise and how we want to use them in our own journey of being a parent. It could be that we are using our own parents as role models and that they did a pretty good job. However it might be that we don’t want to parent the same way and in this case we need to think about what we want to do differently and how we will do it instead. The key here is to think and reflect and be prepared for the emotional journey this might bring up and planning for how we want to do things ourselves to avoid falling into “default” mode and just doing what is familiar to us.